Understand the difference between Direct and Inline attributes in WebSharper

Understand the difference between Direct and Inline attributes in WebSharper

In WebSharper, there are two keywords to bind JS code to our F# code - Direct and Inline. The documentation about the attributes can be found here http://websharper.com/docs/translation.

I have demonstrated the use of it in previous blog posts:

Although the documentation has some explanation about it, I still feel like it is pretty vague. So today I would like to give more explanation about the differences between Direct and Inline.

This post is composed by three parts:

  1. What is Direct?
  2. What is Inline?
  3. Which one to choose and when?

1. What is Direct?

Even though WebSharper does a very good job to allow us to write JS code in F#, some functions are still better written in JS directly. That is where Direct comes into action.

Direct allows us to create a placeholder functions which can be used anywhere in our code. During JS translatin, the function body will be replaced by the content of the string argument passed to the Direct attribute.

[<Direct "$x + $y" >]
let add (x: int) (y: int) = X<int>

... somewhere in the code ...
let result = add 1 2

This will kind of be translated to*:

function($x,$y) {
  return $x+$y;
}

var result = add(1,2)

*It’s not really like that but this is close enough to understand.

Here there are three import points to understand:

  1. $ is used to bind the parameters, it is also possible to use $0, $1, etc… to get the parameters by index
  2. X<_> is a placeholder value, it is a simple compiler trick for the function to have the correct type returned
  3. Direct has placed the content in the body of a function and have placed a return on the value

Having the content in the a body of a function has another advantage - it allows us to pass a piece of code to Direct:

[<Direct """
    console.log("Hey");
    console.log("I am adding x and y");
    return $x + $y;
""">]
let add x y = X<int>

As you would expect, this is kind of translated to*:

function($x,$y) {
  console.log("Hey");
  console.log("I am adding x and y");
  return $x+$y;
}

*It’s not really like that but this is close enough to understand.

Here only one point to note:

The return keyword has not been placed automatically anymore. This is because the JS code is multiline. So don’t forget the return if you want to return a value.

2. What is Inline?

Inline is used to inline the JS code to the call of the function. That’s what the documentation says and that’s what it does. Although the first time I read it, it left me with questions marks.

To understand better, let’s see an example. If we take the previous example and change Direct with Inline we get:

[<Inline "$x + $y">]
let add (x: int) (y: int) = X<int>

... somewhere in the code ...
let result = add 1 2

The translation becomes:

var result = 1 + 2

So that was what the documentation meant. Everywhere the function add is called, the call get replaced by the JS code x + y. The JS code is inlined to the call of the function. Only one restriction to note, since Inline is replacing the calls, it can’t be multiline.

Which one to choose and when?

At this point you may be thinking:

Direct and Inline both do the same thing except Inline has restrictions, I might as well just use Direct.

Well yes, most of the time I use Direct but in some cases, inlining the code is a necessity. A typical example would be when you want to create binding to the members of a JS object.

type Location =
    [<Inline "window.location">]
    static member Create() = X<Location>
    [<Inline "$0.href">]
    member x.GetHref() = X<string>

...somewhere in your code...
let href = Location.Create().GetHref()

$0 represents the first parameter, for a member function it is the instance (itself x here).

This will get translated to:

var href = window.location.href

What if I used Direct?

[<Direct "$0.href">]
member x.GetHref() = X<string>

This would have been translated to

window.location.GetHref()

which is wrong since location doesn’t have a member called GetHref. You would have had the following error Uncaught TypeError: window.location.GetHref is not a function.

In this sample we can’t use Direct. The code has to be inlined therefore we must use Inline.

Conclusion

Today we saw the differences between Direct and Inline. I tend to use Direct more often. I use Inline only when I need to define bindings for JS object members. But that is just what I experienced so far and there might be other use cases. I hope this helped you understand better how you could integrate JS code directly into your F# code with WebSharper and most importantly I hope this demystified the meaning behind Direct and Inline attributes! If you have any question, leave it here or hit me on Twitter @Kimserey_Lam. See you next time!

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